New Yorkers engage in many behaviors to satisfy their compulsion for expedience — dialing up for a carton of General Tso’s when they really could be cooking, spending $4 for a latte when the coffee maker at home sits idle, e-hailing Uber when the subway is right there.
But of all the urban shortcuts, slicing through Central Park’s wide roads in a car, bypassing street traffic just out of view through the park’s London Plane trees, has to be the most bucolic.
That verdant experience will be radically truncated on Friday evening when, in an effort to protect the park’s bikers, joggers, bird-watchers and pedestrians as well as limit air pollution in the park, the city will shut the miles of north and southbound drives that sprawl along the parkland above 72nd Street forever.
The decision, made by the de Blasio administration, has drawn much applause from those who traverse Central Park on foot. “Outside is for the cars! In there is for the people!” said Joseph Roberts, 58, as he sat on a bench at the greensward’s northern tip, where the waters of the Harlem Meer lap at 110th Street. To underscore his point, Mr. Roberts repeated himself exactly 10 times.
CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times
In fact, driving has always been a part of the park, said Morrison H. Heckscher, the author of “Creating Central Park” and a curator emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum. At the park’s 1857 debut, the paved roads were for horse-drawn carriages to trot along, by the thousands on weekends, horses in gleaming leather tack, drivers in sharp livery, the carriage occupants — of the Astor and Vanderbilt and Frick sort — in the latest fashions. It was the intention of the park’s creators, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, for those roads to be used for vehicles, the dirt bridlepaths for horsemen and the rambling roads for the rest.
“What they intended was to provide separate traffic patterns for different categories of motion, and today it’s being limited to basically the people on foot or on bicycles,” Mr. Heckscher said.
With the changes, the east and west drives that loop above 72nd Street, which have long been shut to cars at certain times on weekdays, will be permanently closed to cars, followed by the shutting in Brooklyn of the Prospect Park West Drive on July 6. Horse and carriage rules will be unaffected by the Central Park change, as will the park’s several east-west transverses. (Parks department and other official vehicles will still be able to use the road.)
“Like all public space, our parks have a lot of demands put on them,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a written statement. “But traffic shouldn’t be one of them. Our city needs places where kids can run around safely, where people can jog or go for a walk after a long day of work and not have cars racing by five feet away.”
There were 29 injuries to bikers and pedestrians from cars in the park from 2012 to 2014, according to the Department of Transportation. (There were 377 injuries involving bikes and/or pedestrians in the same period.)
“Cerrado!” cheered Jose Miguel Ramirez, 39, who was playing salsa tunes on his trumpet to an audience of bushes while on his lunch break this week. “Shut!”
And yet, wouldn’t the sound of a salsa-ing trumpet between the trees be the perfect soundtrack for a leisurely loop around the park, the windows down, rolling through the dappled light?
Zipping through the gap in the low stone walls at West 100th Street, a driver seeking one last indulgence had a lovely pastoral jaunt filled with birdsong — and mental calisthenics. A playground rose to the right; children darted about, sharpening mental acuity. Heading southward, at 98th Street, a clutch of peach day lilies spilled into the roadway.
Soon the Dakota loomed — but eyes on the road! In front was a pack of 13 dogs to avoid as they tugged two walkers across the street, leashed to each animal as if ensnared by the kraken. Past the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir a family of hippopotamuses sunned themselves: The driver readied for a hippo version of Frogger, the early arcade game where a pixelated frog tries, often to tragic results, to hop across a busy road or river. The creatures revealed themselves as just statues by Bob Cassily, roaming Safari Playground at 93rd Street. (Before you judge the driver for an overactive imagination, remember that the Central Park Zoo is nearby, and more important, this is New York City, and anything can happen.)
But the stress inside the park can be an improvement on driving in the Gordian city outside. “Outside of the park we go through so much smoke and other unpleasant smells,” said Syed Haroon, 60, a cabdriver who estimated that he had used the park cutaways a minimum of 5,720 times in his 22 years on the job. “When we go through the park we feel very fresh.” Closing it, he said, will be a blow to cabdrivers’ psyches.
Mr. Haroon and his peers might still find refuge below 72nd Street, where the roads will remain open. But that part of Central Park roadway is apparently no place for country driving. At 67th Street, as a reporter slowed her vehicle to admire the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini in bronze, two police officers pulled her over, to ask if she was feeling well. She was.
Then why, they asked, was she driving so slowly?
FIND THE ORIGINAL AT: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/26/nyregion/end-of-a-pastoral-shortcut-for-central-parks-drivers.html